Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Battle of Stone's River – Day 3

On December 31st Bragg had driven back Rosecrans's army around Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But Rosecrans did not retreat the next day as he expected, so on January 2nd, 150 years ago today, he decided to renew the attack. In the afternoon he ordered John C. Breckinridge to attack Beatty's division, which had reoccupied the heights on the east side of the river. At first, Breckinridge protested that the attack would be suicidal, but he eventually agreed and attacked with vigor. He drove the Yankee's off the heights and across the river, but when he attempted to cross McFadden Ford, his troops encountered heavy artillery fire. Captain John Mendenhall had placed his guns very skillfully, 57 guns completely dominating the river crossing. As the rebels tried to cross the river they were driven back time and again by the terrific fire from these guns. Finally, after losing over 1,800 men in one hour, Breckinridge called off the assault. He was devastated by the losses, especially in his Kentucky troops of the Orphan Brigade, so called because they could not return home because their state was occupied by the Union. "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans!" Breckinridge cried as he rode among the survivors. One third of the Orphan Brigade had fallen in the assault.

The fighting was over around Murfreesboro. Rosecrans received reinforcements and supplies the next day, and Bragg knew that the Unions would only gain troops over the coming days. He retreated in the night of January 3rd. Just as at Perryville, Bragg had beaten the Union army, but had been unable to turn his success into a victory. Tactically it was a draw, although Rosecrans could claim victory as Bragg had eventually retreated. Abraham Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans, "You gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over." The Federals made no attempt to pursue, remaining for months in earthworks dug around Murfreesboro. Union General Crittenden wrote of the battle:
The battle was fought for the possession of Middle Tennessee. We went down to drive the Confederates out of Murfreesboro, and we drove them out. They went off a few miles and camped again. And we, although we were the victors, virtually went into hospital for six months before we could march after them again. As in most of our battles, very meager fruits resulted to either side from such partial victories as were for the most part won. Yet it was a triumph. It showed that in the long run the big purse and the big battalions - both on our side - must win, and it proved that there were no better soldiers than ours.


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